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  • Writer's pictureNick Cody

A Few Things I've Learned From Photo Editing

With a lack of events to shoot and stay-at-home orders here, I've been editing and reediting some older photos. Editing can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

Understand there are plenty of other people who offer great advice and tutorials on how to specifically edit photos. What I want to discuss is my perspective on editing, what has and hasn't worked for me, and what I would do different if I were starting again.

Photography first

Just like the saying goes, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still going to be a pig. If your image has poor composition, bad lighting, or has an out of focus subject, editing is not going to magically make your image amazing. Trust me, I've tried. Editing can compliment a good photo and can bring images to life, but they can't create a quality picture from nothing. So, if you're starting out and want to take better photos, my advice would be to learn about composition and lighting first and foremost.


I currently use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop for just about all of my editing. However, I have been trying to learn and also thinking about purchasing, Capture One Pro. I honestly hate that Adobe doesn't let you buy the one-time license and you have to pick from monthly or annual plans. Even if the one-time license is more expensive, the monthly and annual plans certainly add up after a few years... When I first started to try my hand at photography, I was a broke college student and I most definitely was not about to cut into my Chipotle and beer money to spend those dollars on photo editing software for a class. I used a couple different free programs. Gimp was one of them. It worked fairly well for me, and I managed to pass my first and only photography class using free software, a cheapo camera with manual settings, and my $400 laptop. Where there's a will, there's a way.


I've found editing photos with presets can be useful and can help save a ton of time. If I have several photos from the same shoot with similar lighting, I will edit one to my liking, save those settings as a preset, apply that preset to the others, and adjust the images individually as needed. You can purchase presets online, but it's not that hard to make your own.

Make minor changes

Small adjustments can make a big difference in an image. When I first started editing, I would make way too many adjustments and this would usually result in an image that didn't look right. There is nothing wrong with editing to achieve a certain style, but if you make minor changes one at a time, the end result is likely going to be closer to what you want and less like you applied an Instagram filter from 2012 on there. Sorry if you named your kid Hefe or Valencia...


Maybe you've heard "think with the end in mind". Well, this is especially true in photography. It's important to think about how an image will be used or displayed before taking the picture. When you're post processing, it's also important to consider how you crop an image. While that 16x9 crop might look nice on your large computer screen, it will take up less space on Instagram and be a smaller image for most viewing on a mobile device. A vertical 4x5 crop for most Instagram posts are nice and 9x16 if you're adding it to an IG story. This doesn't mean you should shoot everything vertically and crop into a 4x5. A wide landscape in 16x9 could make for a good printed poster. 4x3 is also a solid choice for a variety of purposes. Most importantly, keep in mind your composition, know what the intended result is, and then decide what will work best for you.


I highly recommend adjusting your image colors individually. This is the HSL panel in Lightroom. Important to note, you can also make further adjustments within the tone curve by selecting the red, green, or blue channel instead of the default RGB channel. Sometimes increasing or decreasing the overall saturation or vibrance is enough to achieve what you want, but other times, the grass, skin tones, or sky doesn't look quite right. This is where adjusting your hue, saturation, and luminance individually are most beneficial. Also, if you're going to add color to your highlights and shadows through split toning, my suggestion would be to add small amounts to start. That is of course, unless you're going for some Blade Runner or Matrix styled image. If I use split toning, I don't usually ever add more than 8% to the highlights or shadows, and 4-5% is more typical for when I do use it.

RAW files

I always shoot in RAW format and I recommend you doing the same if you have the option to do so. Because they're uncompressed images, they take up more space, but you have so much more flexibility when editing these files compared to a JPEG. If you underexposed an image but shot it in RAW, you can likely bump your exposure quite a bit and still maintain good image quality. Whereas if you shot in a smaller JPEG format, and you need to make significant changes in post, you might end up with an edited photo that looks like you took it with an actual potato. Potatography?

Back it up!

Back up your files. Back up your files. Back up your files. Dropbox, Google Drive, a portable hard drive, memory cards, or Lightroom cloud storage, etc... It doesn't matter. Just keep your files backed up. I've gone back to edit old photos and realized I had lost the original files and only have the small exported JPEG's available now. That sucked. And you most definitely don't want to be that person who loses a client's files. That would really suck.

I know this post is rather broad on the subject of photo editing. It was meant to be. I plan to dive deeper into more specific and technical topics on editing and photography at some point, but this was meant to cover some of the more basic things I've learned, and hopefully help out those in the beginning or more intermediate stages of photography. I added a few before and after edited photos in a slideshow below as examples.

Thanks for stopping by!



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May 2020

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